The new, unauthorized documentary The Armstrong Lie
is, to use a phrase from the film, a "myth-buster." It's wholly necessary, brilliantly executed, and a complete bummer. Initially sanctioned by its subject, director and narrator Alex Gibney's doc exposes evidence of Lance Armstrong's use of performance-enhancing drugs with a reticence that matches the larger world's reluctance to accept the truth. Gibney, too, wanted to believe in the fatherless guy from Plano, Texas, who beat cancer at 25, established a $300 million cancer support foundation, and, oh, by the way, won the Tour de France seven times in a row. Armstrong's lie, our belief -- which is sadder? Here, the rise and fall of Lance is a dizzying whirl of teammate names, scientific "doping" jargon, and the incessant drone of his own denials. It would all be exhausting if Gibney didn't understand one key thing: Everyone loves a race. The Armstrong Lie
swings back and forth in time, but its fulcrum is the extraordinary footage Gibney and ace cinematographer Maryse Alberti shot at the 2009 Tour. Archival footage depicts Armstrong's glory days and their attendant controversies, but Gibney always turns back to that race, which looks both insane and beautiful. Many say that Armstrong sealed his doom by coming out of retirement in 2009, angering his enemies, but you have to wonder why he granted full access to so penetrating a filmmaker. The Oscar-winner has made a dazzling array of hyper-smart docs, including Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
(2005) and Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House
of God (2012). Their common denominator is the filmmaker's moral outrage at powerful men who tell lies.